Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Post-mortems: "We don't have time.."

This one is actually more of a sociological case study by Gary Younge. It's the tenth of a ten part series filed for The Guardian from and about Muncie, Indiana.  The entire series is great. Read the whole thing if you get some time.  This one is fine to start with for our purposes because it wraps up the election. Younge notes that what has been described elsewhere as a Trump "surge" implying some decisive expression of the voters' anger/racism/xenophobia whatever, is actually more about their apathy.
The link between economic anxiety and rightwing nationalism can be overdone. The easy narrative of a populist revolt has an appealing simplicity, but Clinton won votes from more than half of the people who earn less than $50,000; the rich voted for Trump. He won the electoral college and lost the popular vote. Thanks to the lowest turnout in 20 years, Trump won a lower percentage of the eligible vote than John Kerry, John McCain, Mitt Romney and Gerald Ford – and they all lost. He got the same proportion of the white vote as Romney in 2012 and Bush in 2004 and only a little more than McCain in 2008. He may have led the charge to the right but comparatively few marched with him.

Nor is such a link inevitable. In several countries across Europe – from Greece to Britaina populist left response has emerged to this same crisis. In the US Bernie Sanders, the Vermont senator who calls himself a democratic socialist, shocked everybody, including himself, by mounting a dynamic insurgent campaign that addressed these very economic issues.

Nonetheless, the link cannot be denied. The case for solidarity requires more effort and empathy than the case for scapegoating. It also flies against the prevailing headwinds of individualism, nationalism and a narrow understanding of self-preservation.
When people are abandoned, hopeless, and disconnected, it's easier for a politician, such as Trump, to use that to his advantage than to lead a movement that seeks to overcome it. Trump's appeal is strictly nihilistic. It expects that voters with no sense of purpose or future will either respond to the little bit of impotent rage you can sell them or (mostly, in fact) disengage from the process altogether.

Younge points out that the Sanders campaign tried the harder approach of motivating people to overcome their isolation and find the solidarity across racial and cultural divisions necessary to work for positive rather than destructive change.

But Trump didn't face Bernie in the runoff. Instead he faced a Clinton campaign whose theme "America is already great" merely reinforced the nihilism that favored Trump.  The campaign's job is to find out what people need help with and then, at least pretend as though, the candidate takes those challenges seriously.  Younge reports that Democrats haven't been selling themselves that way in Muncie.
But the issue was not simply about trade or globalisation: to many voters in Muncie, Clinton looked not only like an integral part of the establishment that had brought them to this place, but like a candidate advocating more of the same. “If you take a step back and look at all America has achieved over the past eight years, it’s remarkable to see how far we’ve come,” Clinton argued. For many of those who already had their backs against the wall, it was hard to see the progress. Trump, on the other hand, offered the near certainty that something would change. “At least he’ll shake things up,” was the phrase that kept coming up. One in five of those who voted for him thought he didn’t have the temperament to be president. For some who had little to lose, he was evidently a risk worth taking.

The Democrats keep making out like everything is OK,” says Todd Smekens, the publisher of the progressive online magazine Muncie Voice. “And it’s not. Nobody’s buying it.”
I don't like to get too far into the hypothetical "Could Bernie have won?" discussion.  Maybe he could have. It would have been a different race.  But regardless of the candidate, the election certainly called for a different strategy. If Bernie OR Hillary had gone to Muncie, Indiana and other such "Middletowns" telling voters, hello we want to give you guys free health care and send your kids to college tuition-free and tell the banks we bailed out to ease up on your mortgages, that might have reached these people. It might have brought those disconnected non-voters who showed up for Obama back to the polls. It might have even brought some of those "angry white working class" Trump voters we're supposed to hate so much back into the fold. (Not that you'd need very many of them. If the 2008 or 2012 electorate had shown up, that would have been enough to win.)

But Clinton, in keeping with the modern neoliberal tradition, just kept telling people none of their problems were actually problems. Or, when the desperate were acknowledged, they were told to be patient. 
People need something to change. “The [Democratic party says] ‘Let’s just do the things we’ve always done and have incremental change’.” says Dave Ring, who runs the Downtown Farm Stand, an organic food store and deli. “So they’re very, very happy with incremental change. And the rest of the public is out here like: ‘We don’t have time for incremental change.’”
Telling people who are running out of time they need to sit down and wait is not how you win an election like this one. But that's what the Hillary campaign did and that's why they blew it.

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